Solar-Powered Planes: The Future of Air Travel?

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Solar Impulse's HB-SIA prototype airplane


Emissions-free air travel made an experimental flight on Wednesday.

The AP reports on a Swiss solar-powered plane that is attempting to run a 24-hour test flight without fuel. The aircraft will rely on its 12,000 solar cells to collect enough natural energy from the sun during the daytime, so that the operation can persist through darkness. (See pictures of the solar-powered airplane taking flight.)

“The goal of the project is to have a solar-powered plane flying day and night without fuel,” team co-founder Bertrand Piccard told the AP.

Piccard, who achieved the first nonstop circumnavigation of the globe in a balloon in 1999, spoke with TIME back in 2007 about the visionary ideas behind his Solar Impulse airplane project.

“The achievement won’t be just to go around the world, but to encourage a complete paradigm shift on how we use energy,” Piccard told TIME.

If the flight is successful, Piccard plans to run a follow-up flight around the world — another step toward the sun’s rays eventually being a primary energy supplier for air travel.